Have you got a knack for writing and knob twiddling as well? I’m looking for talented writers and electronic music producers to write for this blog. Please reply to this thread or to [email protected] if you’re interested in writing articles/tips for emusictips.com!
I’ve gotten a few requests to make the top 10 signs your track is amateur for electronic music instead of acoustic music. Well, here’s my list of things you should learn to avoid if you want professional sounding tracks.
- As I’ve written about before, the most common thing that prevents amateurs from getting a full sound is not filling the “box” that is volume, panning, and frequency. The typical dilemma is this: as more sounds are layered together, the audio may start to clip. And so, you turn the gain down on the each channel of the mixer so it doesn’t clip. But then, it sounds quiet. In order to fix this, you need to learn about compression and mixing. If used properly, compression reduces the variations between one audio channel’s highest and lowest gain levels throughout the track, which allows you to turn the volume up without clipping.
- Muddy sound:
When too many frequencies are overlapping in a mix, the result is “muddy”. To prevent mud, you must consciously keep in mind what range of frequencies you are adding with each new part. Inevitably, frequencies will overlap, no matter what instruments you choose. For example, two bassy sounds on top of each other will interfere, resulting in weird phasing issues. If you want to use two instruments that use up the same frequency spectrum, you’ll want to carve out the highs on one and carve out the lows on the other (through the use of EQ, you will eliminate too many overlapping frequencies and clear up your mix) The end result should be consist of many different parts that all cover different ranges of frequencies, which all add up to a full, clear sound.
download “10 ways to get your music into film and TV” (60kb PDF)
There is one basic fact about the film and television music industry that drives much of what you will read in this guide: it is a very, very competitive business and there are many more songs and instrumental music pieces than there are openings and places to use them in film and television. In Los Angeles on any given day, hundreds, maybe thousands of people are marketing their music for film and television productions. This guide is designed to show you how you can successfully compete in this industry, whether you live in Los Angeles, New York, or in a small country town far removed from the major music cities.
Location, Location, Location! The tried but true real estate mantra is definitely applicable to the film and television music business. A simple fact: being in LA or NY can make it easier to compete for work. While film and television shooting locations can be found worldwide, the infrastructure for post production, which includes music, is still centered in Los Angeles. Although this is changing rapidly as cheap digital editing equipment becomes available in other cities, in film work, the city that the director resides in can also be a major factor in underscore work.
It’s useful to note that song placement is much less location-oriented than score composing. Score composing requires a weeks-long cycle where it can be very helpful if the director and composer are in close physical proximity so demos can be heard. Song placement is much more easily done from locations outside of LA since once the director or music supervisor decide they want to use a song, the physical location of the songwriter is not that important.
That much being said, if you’re in LA or New York, make the most of it and seek out personal relationships with people in the business. Film directors, television producers, and music supervisors are among the most important people you can meet in terms of getting your music into film and television projects. By putting a face with a name,” you can increase the chances of your music being heard.
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I keep a collection of audio samples designed to help check my monitor setup. Test tones, essentially, that I use after I’ve moved my speakers or desk, to ensure the speakers still behave as they should.
I’ve included 4 of the samples below, and I hope you find them useful – and possibly enlightening. Each tests a facet of the two most common monitoring problems in home studios: Uneven bass response, and poor stereo imaging.
Sine wave sweep
Contents: A sine wave sweeping from 40Hz to 300Hz.
Use this to test for: Bass response, sympathetic vibrations.
Unless you’re outdoors, or listening on headphones, you’ll notice the volume rising and falling as the audio plays. That’s normal, although the level doesn’t actually change. (Open the MP3 in your DAW to confirm this.) Rather, you’re exposing the acoustic response of your room.
Use this test as a rough gauge of how extreme the acoustic issues are in your space. (You can flatten the response somewhat, but acoustic treatment is a topic unto itself. For some more information, check the quick backgrounder on home studio acoustics.)
Additionally, the sweep can expose low-frequency dependent rattles, buzzes, or other sympathetic vibrations happening in the area around you. With this test, I once discovered the casing on an overhead light shook at exactly 140Hz, after puzzling with a mix for 15 minutes, unable to isolate the odd rattling sound.
These days, I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism aimed at the compact disc format. Vinyl is regaining popularity as people are realizing that CD’s just don’t sound the same as vinyl. Now, whether this is just a placebo effect, I’m not sure. Apparently, audiophiles can’t tell the difference between Monster Cable and coat hangers. Should we trust the human ear so much to say that we can really hear the difference between CD and Vinyl? The differences are there, surely. Vinyl carves a smooth, continuous groove around the disc, whereas CD reduces the audio quality to 44,100 slices, each having 65,536 possible levels. I’m willing to bet your average listener couldn’t tell the difference. Another thing about vinyl is that as the record progresses, more and more high frequencies are lost.
“Most people don’t realize that the distance around the inside of a 12-inch record is about half the distance than around the outside,” Golden explains. “As the distance around each revolution decreases, the high frequencies become harder for a playback stylus to read.”
Link to source
On a tangentially related side-note, I found an interesting video of how vinyl records made, check out How Vinyl Records Are Made Part 1 and Part 2. I know the vinyl vs. CD format war will never be resolved, but it’s interesting to consider when deciding between the two methods of physical distribution for your project.
In this short video, I demonstrate how to load an audio file into the Simpler instrument to create a monophonic “human flute” sound. This technique can be applied whenever you need to create a playable instrument from a single recorded tone.
If you aren’t confident enough to record melodies from a MIDI keyboard or even your computer’s keyboard (a nice feature in Live for when you’re on the road with no MIDI controller), I find that the easiest way to write melodies with the pencil tool (Command + B for mac users, Ctrl + B for windows users) is to write in your melodies step by step. If you recall the formulas for major in tones (W = whole step, H = half step) (W W H W W W H) and minor (W H W W H W W), then you can use the Fold feature of Live’s clip view to hide the notes that are not included by one of these formulas. Notice in the first image, we have one octave of notes stacked up on top of each other in two different scales, F major and F minor.
All we need to do is create one of these stacks in a MIDI clip, and then duplicate it once or twice. Just select all the notes, then hold down option (mac) while dragging the notes up one octave. This should create a duplicate of your notes, but transposed up one octave. Do this again for the octave below. Now when you click the “Fold” button located at the top left of the clip view, all notes that are not in the clip are hidden. Note in this second image that at the very left, there is a stack of notes that form the scale of F minor. After that, I randomly double clicked to create new notes all over the grid. I set my synthesizer’s polyphony to 1 so that it can only play one note at a time. So no matter what notes I drew, they were all in key. As long as you have the fold view enabled, you can now draw notes anywhere and it will still sound pretty decent.
by Bob Katz
Mastering requires an entirely different “head” than mixing. I once had an assistant who was a great mix engineer and who wanted to get into mastering. So I left her alone to equalize a rock album. After three hours, she was still working on the snare drum, which didn’t have enough “crack”! But as soon as I walked into the room, I could hear something was wrong with the vocal. Which brings us to the first principle of mastering: Every action effects everything. Even touching the low bass affects the perception of the extreme highs.
Mastering is the art of compromise; knowing what’s possible and impossible, and making decisions about what’s most import and in the music. When you work on the bass drum, you’ll affect the bass for sure, sometimes for the better, sometimes worse. If the bass drum is light, you may be able to fix it by “getting under the bass” at somewhere under 60 Hz, with careful, selective equalization. You may be able to counteract a problem in the bass instrument by dipping around 80, 90, 100; but this can affect the low end of the vocal or the piano or the guitar – be on the lookout for such interactions. Sometimes you can’t tell if a problem can be fixed until you try; don’t promise your client miracles. Experience is the best teacher.
Before mastering, listen carefully to the performance, the message of the music. In many music genres, the vocal message is the most important. In other styles, it’s the rhythm, in some it’s intended distortion, and so on. With rhythmic music, ask yourself, “what can I do to make this music more exciting?” With ballads, ask “is this music about intimacy, space, depth emotion, charisma, or all of the above”? Ask, “How can I help this music to communicate better to the audience?” Always start by learning the emotion and the message of the client’s music/ After that, you can break it down into details such as the high frequencies, or the low frequencies, but relate your decisions to the intended message of the music. Some clients send a “pseudo-mastered” demonstration CD illustrating their goals. Evin if you don’t like the sound on their reference, or you think you can do better, carefully study the virtues of what they’ve been listening to. During your mastering, refer back to the original mix; make sure you haven’t “fixed” what wasn’t broken in the first place. There is no “one-size-fits-all” setting, and each song should be approached from scratch. In other words, when switching to a new song, bypass all processors, and listen to the new song in its naked glory to confirm it needs to be taken in the same or different direction than the previous number. Likewise, as you gain experience, you may want to “tweak” the “presets” in your equipment. Presets are designed to make suggestions and provide good starting points, but they are not one-size-fits-all and should be adjusted according to the program material and your personal taste.
To continue reading, download the PDF for Secret of the Mastering Engineer
Hey everybody, sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been focusing my efforts on my own musical projects. But good news, my debut album has been unleashed into the world, and I should have more time to keep updating the site.
My album, Six Minute City, is available for listening and for purchasing online at modcam.com. Additionally, you can download free tracks from the album on last.fm
Here at emusictips, I’m always on the lookout for fresh new electronic sounds. Artists such as Shulman, Bluetech (Evan Bartholomew), Kilowatts, Pitch Black, and Shen have piqued my interest because of the technical mastery evident in their sound. Here’s a short list of the things I think make their music great:
Conscious use of space: just like any good graphic designer will tell you, space is important. In design, space comes in the form of white space, which is one of the most important elements in creating aesthetic compositions. The same thing applies for music. Allow your listeners to breathe, so to speak. You give them space and they will appreciate it.
Conscious use of effects: One of my favorite things to add to any synth is a series of effects and processors that polish the sound and make it pop out of the track. Delays are great for filling in empty space that you’ve created between elements in the track. Try adding a 3/16th delay to any sound and then adjust the feedback to your liking. This will create a sound that repeats every third sixteenth note, and will gradually fade out. But do not overdo it! If you have a lot of feedback, only play a note every so often so that you can still retain that space that is so important. Also, if you’re going to add effects such as phasers, flangers, distortion, etc., make sure that not all of the instruments in your track are layered with these kinds of effects. The purpose should be to make a particular sound stand out from the rest to create contrast.
Automation: To keep me interested as a listener, you need to develop movement in your song. Movement requires changes along time. The best way to achieve this is to automate knobs and sliders in your software sequencer. When you’re tweaking knobs on a synth or sampler and you find that turning a certain knob sounds cool, hit record and then record those knob movements in real time. Go back over the song and repeat the process as necessary to create a multi-faceted track with lots of movement.